Sunday, April 03, 2011

Roma, Day 2: Travel Notes, Observing

The Musei Capitolini atop Capitloline Hill is now one of my favorite places in the world. It lacks the universality of the Louvre, but Italy has not been imperial for about 1700 years. To have a Louvre, a country needs the means to thieve, and that means empire. Wht this museum has is as much pride of place as any I have ever been in.

The place was generally less crowded than I expected except for the three or four traveling bands of visiting youth. I arrived in the midst of one and the guards asked me to step aside for a moment ... then they gave up and pushed the students aside so I could get in.They scanned my bag without looking at the monitor. This particular band of youth dogged me throughout ... they were a gallery ahead or a gallery behind most of the time.

Italisn youth, and this seems broadly true of continental European youth in general, are so much more adult in their behavior than American youth. They are certainly skinnier, and I mean that in a healthy sense. They look after themselves, they do not seem to need constant adult supervision. But even so, in a group like this, they marched along and stuck to the program. The tour guide lectured in a strong voice, uninterrupted by queries or complaints. It was always a dense patter, and I noticed this again and again in numerous languages all day long.

I get the sense that Europe has not invested in the culture of parenting as indulgence and service. Children are expected to be and do and to take some responsibility for themselves. Youth swarm all over the place here. On the Piazza de' Fiore by night, on the Piazza Navona by day, in gender separated clumps of 3 to 20, they cackle and gaggle and move about. But hey do not interfere or litter or demand. They are, as I said, rather adult about it all. I'd rather be alone, but that option is not available. So I would much rather be surrounded by a bunch of European youth than American ones.

Suddenly in the Forum there is a young boy and girl running and screaming and getting underfoot. They speak ... ah, yes, they are American. I saw an Italian mother smack her son on the rump. He looked up with a smirk. She said something, his eyes widened and he shrugged. Whatever it was, he was in the wrong, he knew it, he took the hint, and life moved on. In America, it would be a Judge Judy episode that might end up with the child being taken by Child Protective Services.

This is all very general, and informed by a day's observation. But it is the same impression I have had in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Prague, and largely in London.

The other note on Italians I might make is that they all seem rather mannish ... that is something shy of masculine but certainly not feminine. The men are unabashedly masculine in their demeanor, and so are the boys. But the women are distinctly mannish in the sense of blunt and forward and self-possessed. I like it. I can see why it would be difficult to be gay here. But I like the forward and unadorned character of being. I will try to write more about that anon.

Aside: two Americans with Southern accents have arrived on the rooftop garden where I write ... the woman staopped to talk to me and told me the story of her Italian grandparents and how they made their way by growing and selling vegetables from the back of a truck in Florida. Very friendly. That said, despite being from FLorida, she was unable to identify a seagull and wondered what kind of big bird it was.

A note on eating: I did a lot better than yesterday. I suppose my ranting about it in yesterday's post may have inspired some "adult" approaches. I picked a restaurant for dinner in the morning as I left. I had lunch in the Musei Capitolini cafeteria, eating on the rooftop patio. When I arrived at my dinner place, Ristorante Santa Ana, I believe, the place was still empty since it was a little shy of 7 p.m. The waiter replied to my "per uno" with a big questioning "adesso?" Sure enough, he gestured to a good table with a bemused shrug. Big personality, again, unadorned by a false meekness or submission. I had a sublime linguini with porcini mushrooms ... and they know exactly what al dente means ... and a grilled fish that they described as sea bass but looked an awful lot like trout to me, and a giant salata mista, mixed salad. with a beer. Again, 40 euros, but this time worth it. The fish was sublime.

I picked out a spot for dinner tonight that is close by in case I do not find anything on my "La Dolce Vita" night walk home, thanks be to Rick Steves. It is an inexpensive spaghetti pizza place. 40 euros a night is a little sleep for the likes of me.

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